HR Managers Unsure About Same-Sex Benefits

June 24, 2004-Half (51%) of human resources managers have not reviewed their benefit plans in order to determine whether or not the term spouse, as defined in their benefit plans, can apply to same-gender spouses.

Thirty-three percent of HR managers surveyed by Aon Consulting would extend health benefits to employees’ same-sex spouses to the extent possible if requested by a company employee, while 40% said they would not, and the rest did not know.

Nearly half (43%) of those surveyed said they would have to amend their health plan to clarify whether or not spousal coverage will be provided to same-sex spouses.

However, only 14% of the same group would extend retirement plan benefits to same-sex spouses, according to an Aon news release. The rest of the group was evenly split between no and don’t know (both at 43%). More than a third of respondents said their qualified plan would need to be amended to clarify if coverage can be provided to same-gender spouses.

“When considering the impact of the same-gender marriage decision in Massachusetts, the largest factor that seems to drive behavior for employers is how these plans are treated by the Internal Revenue Code,” notes Paul Sullivan, an assistant vice president with Aon Consulting’s Research & Technical Services (RTS) group in Newburyport, Mass, in a press release. “Federally qualified retirement plans apparently do not want to run the risk of losing their ‘qualified’ status, and this is a distinct possibility if these plans recognize same-gender spouses in violation of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.”

Only 11.3% of human resources managers told Aon that they currently provide benefits such as health coverage to same-sex domestic partners, and 11.3% provide such benefits to opposite gender domestic partners. Some 21.6% offer it to both groups, and 55.8% offer such benefits to neither group. Most (55%) of those who offer benefits to domestic partners did not know if they would eliminate such benefits for all domestic partners in states that recognize same-sex marriages.

Aon received responses from 216 companies that anonymously completed the survey during the past two weeks. Thirty percent of responding companies had 500 or fewer employees, and 14% were from companies with more than 10,000 employees.

Complete survey results are available by visiting Aon’s web page, .